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Ai Weiwei's golden return to Blenheim Palace

Ai Weiwei's golden return to Blenheim Palace

Gilded Cage by Ai Weiwei, in-situ in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, 2021

Pete Seaward / Courtesy of Blenheim Art Foundation

‘It is an honour to unveil Ai Weiwei’s Gilded Cage at Blenheim, an artwork that speaks fearlessly to the world we live in today by one of the pre-eminent artists of our time,’ shares Lord Spencer-Churchill, Founder of Blenheim Art Foundation. Adding that the installation is ‘an exciting milestone in our long-term vision of establishing a permanent presence of contemporary art at Blenheim Palace.’

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With the launch of the Blenheim Art Foundation in 2014, Ai Weiwei became the first contemporary artist to exhibit at Blenheim in its 300-year history. Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace —organised remotely with the artist while being forcibly detained in China — featured over 40 works interspersed throughout the richly furnished rooms and verdant gardens.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Gold by Ai Weiwei, in-situ at Blenheim Palace, 2014

Nikreates / Alamy

Echoing the aesthetic of his work Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Gold, the pièce de résistance of Weiwei’s Blenheim exhibition, Gilded Cage, simultaneously marks the return of the maestro while complimenting the opulence of the Palace. Having been previously installed in the canary-yellow courtyard of Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti in Venice, it seems only fitting that Weiwei’s sculpture should once again grace the grounds of an architectural wonder.

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Gilded Cage captured the imaginations of thousands while on display in New York’s Central Park and in Venice, and we are delighted that it now finds a home at Blenheim Palace,’ remarks Michael Frahm, Director of Blenheim Art Foundation. ‘A seminal work from Ai Weiwei, Gilded Cage shows the artist at his best: combining poetry with politics in a piece that reminds us of art’s power – perhaps even responsibility – to change society for the better.’

Gilded Cage by Ai Weiwei, in-situ (left) at Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Venice, 2018

Lowefoto / Alamy

In harmony with Weiwei’s soulful and politically charged oeuvre, the work calls to mind a birdcage — emblematic of freedom curtailed. Visitors are encouraged to enter the 25ft structure through a series of turnstiles, thereby inviting consideration of the refugee’s siloed experience. Refracting sunlight from its steel skeleton nigh on painfully, one is reminded of the famous line from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: ‘All that glitters is not gold.’

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‘Blenheim Palace is the most proper setting for this work to be shown,’ declares the 63-year-old Weiwei when probed about the installation. Since Blenheim has acted as both a place of refuge and exclusion over the centuries, many agree that Gilded Cage is particularly germane to the Palace and the polarities it represents.

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For instance, during the Blitz of World War II, Blenheim provided a safe haven for over 400 evacuated school children. However, the birthplace of Prime Minister Winston Churchill has historically been the preserve of society’s elite. As such, Gilded Cage challenges viewers to critically reflect on the existential issues of inequality, privilege and liberty.

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Published at Tue, 08 Jun 2021 14:49:43 +0000